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EAC integration remains elusive

NAIROBI, September 1 – A political union for the East African Community should precede trade agreements for a lasting integration, a political scientist advised on Monday.

Professor Mwesiga Baregu of Dar es Salaam University told a regional forum in Nairobi that the union should be driven by the need for collective norms, shared perceptions of threat and values, rather than the trade agreements that have largely directed the negotiations.

Baregu voiced: “Political authority in my view ultimately is what will determine the outcome. When we say that we go for custom union, common market and others, all these will run into problems immediately, precisely because political will is not forthcoming.”

East African Community Permanent Secretary (PS) David Nalo echoed Baregu’s sentiments noting that a political push would aid in addressing the technicalities of the integration.

“The political federation provides a framework of ensuring that the little differences within other stages of integration can easily be dissolved,” he voiced.

Nalo nevertheless came to the defence of the heads of state, hailing their commitment. He informed that the Secretariat is currently working on harmonising concerns raised by member states.

“Remember that they are leaders of people, when their own people say, do not fast track it, they have to respond. They have now instructed us to address the fears of trade, labour movement and services, so that we move forward,” he said.

Baregu however stated that a political union is no longer a choice but a necessity.

“We unite not because we love each other, but because we can only survive together,” he said.

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EAC was first established in 1967 but collapsed in 1995 owing to divergent political and economic views. It was re-launched in 1999 and made a major stride in 2005 by forming the Customs Union.

A common market protocol to serve the over 90 million people in the region is expected to be ready by 2010. The question of whether to transform the region into a political outfit has however remained in the background.

Nalo expressed optimism on Monday that the success of the Common Market negotiations would help fast track the elusive union.

The forum was organised to discuss the effects of the post election crisis on the process.

Baregu noted that the region’s members lacked consensus on addressing the crisis in Kenya. While Uganda endorsed the election, Tanzania played its cards close to the chest choosing to remain neutral. Rwanda on the other hand called for military intervention, a view not shared by the rest.

The professor said that having the political union operational would help member states deal with political crises.

The scientist noted: “You have a body bigger than the countries and that body has some kind of legitimate authority it is given by members so that it can restrain behaviour.”

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